Best Movies of All Time + [Thing]

THE THING

THE THING1982
R

The Thing is a 1982 sci-fi horror film directed by John Carpenter. It follows a group of men stationed at an American outpost in Antarctica. It's never really clarified just why these men are stationed there, but that's neither here nor there. When a pair of Norwegians chase a dog into the American camp and are subsequently killed, helicopter pilot R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell) and Dr. Copper (Richard Dysart) decide to investigate the Norwegian camp. They find no one left alive, but they also find the remains of what looks like some type of humanoid creature. The two bring the corpse back to their base for an autopsy, and upon further examination, it appears to be a human specimen. Still, something seems a little off about the entire situation. When Clark (Richard Masur) puts the dog into the holding pen with the other dogs, it immediately transforms - in rather gory fashion - into some other creature that begins to attack and kill a number of its cellmates. The men are successful in killing the creature which they subsequently learn ingests its prey in order to copy its genetic code, ultimately making a perfect copy of whatever it ate. At this revelation, the men begin to question whether the alien creature had actually infected one of their fellow men. As the creature slowly ravages the outpost, the men become more and more wary of each other in fear that they might have been infected.

In essence, there's not too much of a story hidden inside The Thing. The "creature" - which may force me to alter my list of favorite movie animals and creatures - gets to the camp and begins to terrorize its way through the population. That's basically the entire story. It all comes down to the fact that we're given a story about survival and (dis)trust. It's definitely a film that's more driven by the characters than the plot. We can sit back and watch as the all-male cast bickers and fights about who may or may not be infected. We get a good luck at the various characters brought onto the screen, and it makes the whole situation a little more engaging.

Part of the reason we care so much about the characters is because they're all rather well-acted. I'm not saying that there's any brilliant performances anywhere in The Thing, but everyone's solid enough to be believable. Russell is very good as our lead in this ensemble cast. Everyone else is on about the same level, but Russell's character definitely starts to take center stage after he assumes leadership of the outpost. Aside from him, there's really nobody that my generation will recognize right off the bat (save for Keith David, but he's so young that it took me a moment or two to realize it was actually him).

Where this movie really succeeds is in the atmosphere that Carpenter was able to create. By placing the setting in Antarctica - an isolated place literally at the bottom of the world - the characters aren't really given much opportunity for any type of escape. There's a very claustrophobic component to the film that works to show that, no matter what all these men do, it may all be futile. The horror isn't over-the-top; although there are a few moments of cheap thrills (which I tend to dislike), they are definitely few and far between. Carpenter does well to stick to suspense, showing rather than telling. There are a number of attacks that we never actually see, adding to the fact that we never really know who was infected and who wasn't infected until the man is ultimately exposed. There's a lot of sleight of hand with the camera work and the editing, and I think it works to the benefit of this film. Kudos, Mr. Carpenter.

Overall, this is an effective sci-fi thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the screen fades to black. Be on the lookout for a prequel of the same title that will be released this coming October. Apparently, it will be looking at the Norwegian group from the beginning of this film, but we'll have to wait and see. It could very well be terrible, but that shouldn't take away from the fact that John Carpenter's The Thing is extremely good and definitely worth your time.

Movie Review Summary:Grade: B+
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